LIFE photographer Gjon Mili visited Picasso in 1949. After Mili showed the artist some of his photographs of ice skaters with lights affixed to their skates jumping in the dark, Picasso's mind began to race. Picasso's light drawings were made with a small flashlight and the images vanished almost as soon as they were created except for what the camera captures. This "space drawing" highlights better than anything in clay, wood, metal, or paint the automatic link between hand and brain which is basic to Picasso's creative thrust. (Text adapted from "Picasso's Third Dimension" by Gjon Mili, published by Triton Press; 1970.)
In an exhibit of this work at the Museum of Modern Art the following year, Edward Steichen, curator of the show, wrote, "The "space drawing" technique devised by Gjon Mili has provided another exciting medium for Picasso. The lens follows every move of a point of light held as a pencil in the artist's hand and records on film the completed picture of what he himself saw only his mind's eye. With successive strobe light exposure made during the drawing, there is also recorded with the drawing and for the first time, an artist's facial expression while in the process of working. Picasso's eyes rarely look on his drawing hand, but intensely concentrate on the image he mentally projects into space. These remarkable photographs chalk up another achievement to the credit of Gjon Mili's long line of richly fertile experiments with new techniques in the field of creative photography.
In the late 1930s, working with Harold Eugene Edgerton of MIT, Mili pioneered the use of photoflash to capture a sequence of actions in one photograph. Trained as an engineer and self-taught in photography, Mili was the first to expand the scientific use of electronic flash and stroboscopic light to create photographs of an artistic nature. Since the late 1930s, his pictures of dance, athletics, and musical and theatrical performances have astonished and delighted millions of viewers, revealing the beautiful intricacy and graceful flow of movement too rapid or too complex for the eye to discern.
He was born in 1904 in Albania, came to America in 1923, and was a LIFE magazine freelance photographer from 1939 until his death in 1984. In the introduction to his book, Cartier-Bresson said, "it is because so much is to be learned from his technical proficiency that Mili is a master." At Mil's memorial service, former LIFE managing editor Philip Kunhardt related a story about when Mili let him look at the first proofs of his book, "Photographs and Recollections, GJON MILI", " When I finish the pages, I turn to Gjon and say,'You should be very proud of that.' His lips purse, he juts his chin at me with his sad, wise twinkle. 'Proud is too strong a word,' he corrects me. 'I am content I did not fail.'"
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Medium Silver print
Photo Date 1949 Print Date 1970s
Dimensions 20 x 16 in. (508 x 406 mm)
Photo Country France
Photographer Country United States (USA)
Contemporary Works / Vintage Works, Ltd.